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Answers to Twenty-Five of the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Hawaii's Aquaculture Industry

  1. What is aquaculture?
  2. How long has aquaculture been practiced in Hawaii?
  3. How did the ancient Hawaiians practice aquaculture?
  4. When did modern aquaculture in Hawaii begin?
  5. What is the size of Hawaii's aquaculture industry?
  6. What species of plants and animals are being raised?
  7. Which species group is the largest in terms of total state production?
  8. Where are Hawaii's aquaculture farms located?
  9. What types of systems do these farms use to grow plants and animals?
  10. Is there a demand for Hawaii's aquacultured products?
  11. Where in Hawaii are aquaculture products sold?
  12. How does aquaculture benefit the people of Hawaii?
  13. How much money is required to get started in aquaculture?
  14. Do I need much land for aquaculture?
  15. Land in Hawaii is expensive. Can I afford a site?
  16. Where can I obtain financing for an aquaculture farm?
  17. Will I need a permit to get started in aquaculture?
  18. How many people are employed in aquaculture in Hawaii?
  19. What kinds of jobs are available in aquaculture?
  20. What background should I have for a job in aquaculture?
  21. Where in Hawaii can I study aquaculture?
  22. Where can I obtain more information about getting started in aquaculture?
  23. How can the Aquaculture Development Program help me?
  24. Is there any type of "how-to" book or manual available to help me get started?
  25. What is the outlook for aquaculture in Hawaii




1. What is aquaculture?

Aquaculture is growing plants or animals in salt, fresh or brackish water (a combination of salt and fresh water). The word "mariculture" is often used to describe the culture of plants or animals in brackish or salt water. Open ocean aquaculture is growing marine species in the ocean at now-sheltered sites exposed to ocean waves and currents.

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2. How long has aquaculture been practiced in Hawaii?

Fish farming may well have been practiced by the first Polynesian settlers of the Hawaiian Islands more than 1,000 years ago. At the time of Captain Cook's arrival in 1776, there were estimated to be more than 400 coastal fishponds scattered throughout the Islands. By virtue of this heritage, Hawaii has the oldest tradition of aquaculture in the United States.

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3. How did the ancient Hawaiians practice aquaculture?

The fish farmers of old Hawaii raised fish and crabs in coastal, stone ponds constructed so they directly connected to the sea. Usually, the seafood harvested from these fish ponds was reserved for royalty or "alii." Feeding of fish occurred and water quality was managed using movable gates in the pond walls that allow tidal exchange.

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4. When did modern aquaculture in Hawaii begin?

Modern aquaculture in Hawaii began in the early 1960's with research on the potential of oyster culture and mullet farming, and studies of mass-hatching techniques for freshwater prawns (Macrobrachium rosenbergii) imported from Malaysia.

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5. What is the size of Hawaii's aquaculture industry?

There were currently more than 100 aquafarms in the state. In 2003, they produced products with a farm-gate value of $27.7 million. Research, training, and technology transfer activities added an estimated $10 million, for a total industry value of about $38 million.

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6. What species of plants and animals are being raised?

Aquaculture production is generally divided into four product groups, with a total of over 30 aquatic plant and animal species are being raised for research or commercial production. Product groups include: Shellfish (marine shrimp, freshwater prawns and abalone); Finfish (Pacific threadfin or moi, tilapia, catfish, carp, flounder, sturgeon, amberjack, snappers, and grouper); Algae (seaweeds and microalgae) and "Other" (non-food products such broodstock shrimp, oysters and clams seed, pearl oysters and a variety of freshwater and marine aquarium fish and invertebrates).

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7. Which species group is the largest in terms of total state production?

Algae has the highest production value of all product groups, followed by Shellfish, "Other" and Finfish. The microalgae, Spirulina (sold as a health food), and the popular seaweed, ogo or Gracilaria (sold as a sea vegetable), totaled $11.7 million. The value of finfish production is projected to increase sharply in the coming years due to the expansion of large-scale offshore cage culture.

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8. Where are Hawaii's aquaculture farms located?

There are commercial farms located on Oahu, Kauai, Maui, Molokai and the Island of Hawaii. Many farms are located on the windward coasts of these islands where fresh water is readily available from streams and ground water. The sunny leeward coasts are favored by growers producing seaweed and other saltwater species. More recently, farms can be located in State marine waters (within 3 miles of shore) using the newly amended ocean leasing law.

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9. What types of systems do these farms use to grow plants and animals.

Aquaculture species are being raised in many different ways, utilizing a variety of technologies. For example, Hawaii farmers use small-scale earthen ponds, tank systems, and large scale "high-tech" concrete raceway systems, as well as various intermediate systems and technologies. At the State Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in Kona, Hawaii, deep, cold ocean water is pumped onshore to raise such coldwater species as Japanese founder, Pacific oyster, Maine lobster, and abalone. Several pioneering farmers are using state-of-the-art cage culture technology to farm the open ocean.

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10. Is there a demand for Hawaii's aquacultured products?

Yes, and demand is strong. This is in large part due to the high consumption of seafood in the Islands - over 50 million pounds annually - by residents and tourists alike and the necessity to import 70% of the products consumed. The top local chefs like to emphasize use of fresh, local products in their cooking. Certain of our most abundant products are being exported to the U.S. Mainland, Japan, and Europe.

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11. Where in Hawaii are aquaculture products sold?

Aquacultured seafood is sold through both direct and wholesale marketing channels. Sales take place at small "Mom and Pop" stores and supermarkets, through a variety of ethnic and "white tablecloth" restaurants, at neighborhood "open" markets, and at farms utilizing roadside stands. Larger farms can export directly or utilize one of the many fish wholesalers available.

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12. How does aquaculture benefit the people of Hawaii?

Benefits from aquaculture development include: creation of high wage job opportunities in rural areas on all islands that need employment; generation of export earnings and additional tax revenues; preservation and creation of scenic vistas (which complements the tourist industry); continuation of an important Hawaiian tradition of sustainable food production and island self sufficiency; and creation of opportunities for consumers to enjoy a greater variety of fresh, wholesome seafood products.

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13. How much money is required to get started in aquaculture?

The amount of money you will need depends on the scale and type of production desired. A "backyard" project may cost a few hundred dollars to construct if you have a site. A large-scale, semi-intensive or intensive production farm of 50 to 100 acres could easily cost several million dollars to construct.

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14. Do I need much land for aquaculture?

You may not need a large parcel of land. Hundreds of pounds of fish can be raised in your residential backyard for family consumption. A profitable commercial farm, however, may require 5 to 10 or more acres to have a viable economic unit, depending on the type of culture technology being used and the species grown.

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15. Land in Hawaii is expensive. Can I afford a site?

More aquafarmers have found that they can avoid substantial start-up costs by securing long term (15-30 years) leases for land. Lease rents for agriculture land in both the public and private sector average $200 to $500 per acre per year, with lower rates usually available on the Neighbor Islands. Often landlords will require a percentage of your gross sales, such as 1% to 5% or a flat fee whichever is greater. Negotiation is encouraged.

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16. Where can I obtain financing for an aquaculture farm?

The State Department of Agriculture has low-interest loans for commercial aquaculture, if you meet certain qualifications. Other funding sources include commercial banks, the Production Credit Association, the USDA Rural Development Agency, and the Small Business Administration. Hawaii is also rapidly developing a pool of angle investors and venture capitalists that is increasingly interested in high technology aquaculture projects and a new State law provides generous tax incentives for these technology investments.

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17. Will I need a permit to get started in aquaculture?

Yes, permits of various kinds will be needed, for example, construction, digging a well, grading, etc. There are generally more land use and environmental permits required for projects near the ocean (along the coast), than operations located away from coastal areas. The State also offers the opportunity to be permitted to conduct offshore aquaculture in State marine waters. You may also need a permit to import non-native species into the state or to transfer a non-native species interisland. A special permit is needed to work with native species that are regulated by fisheries laws. Assistance is available from ADP to sort out the permit process.

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18. How many people are employed in aquaculture in Hawaii?

At the end of 2003, there were about 942 people employed part-time or full-time in commercial aquaculture and in the research, training and technology transfer sector of the industry. Many of these jobs are in rural areas of the State, that need economic development.

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19. What kinds of jobs are available in aquaculture?

Some examples of aquaculture jobs include farm manager, production manager, laboratory technician, harvest superintendent, hatchery technician, marketing manager, research technician, consultant or extension agent.

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20. What background should I have for a job in aquaculture?

In general, many employers like to see "hands-on" farming experience, together with formal course work at a college or university in such areas as agriculture, aquaculture, marine biology, zoology, fisheries biology, and oceanography. A background in business can also be particularly helpful. Other employers prefer an employee who has a strong interest and work ethic, who is willing to learn. Many workers in the Hawaii industry have come from public or private research institutions.

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21. Where in Hawaii can I study aquaculture?

Both the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Hilo on the Island of Hawaii have aquaculture courses and related degrees, in particular UH Hilo offers an undergraduate degree in aquaculture. Hawaii Pacific University is starting an aquaculture degree program through its affiliation with the Oceanic Institute. Honolulu and Windward Community Colleges on Oahu both occasionally offer "hands-on" instruction in small-scale and backyard aquaculture. Many high schools also have beginning aquaculture instruction through their science or vocational agriculture curriculum.

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22. Where can I obtain more information about getting started in aquaculture?

The Aquaculture Development Program (ADP) of the State Department of Agriculture has a wide variety of informational materials and services designed to help you learn more about Hawaii aquaculture industry. The University of Hawaii Sea Grant extension agents, co-funded by ADP, are available on Oahu and the Neighbor Islands for consultation and to provide farm start-up information and technical assistance.

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23. How can the Aquaculture Development Program help me?

ADP's services include providing information on species and site opportunities, assisting with permits, assessing farm sites, identifying sources of financing, and advising on marketing and business development. The ADP office is located downtown Honolulu at 1177 Alakea Street, Room 400, Honolulu, HI 96813, Telephone: (808) 587-0030. Fax (808) 587-0033. E-mail: info@hawaiiaquaculture.org.

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24. Is there any type of "how-to" book or manual available to help me get started?

For individuals interested in commercial projects, contact the staff of the Aquaculture Development Program using the contact information listed above. Staff would be happy to discuss your project ideas and help you consider the feasibility of various approaches. A booklet entitled, "Backyard Aquaculture in Hawaii" was written for the beginning aquaculturist. The emphasis is on what plants and animals to grow, and how to grow them with a minimum investment in land and equipment. This practical manual, while dated, is available for sale through Windward Community College. For cost and more information contact: Windward Community College, Office of Community Services; 45-720 Keaahala Road, Kaneohe, HI 96744. Telephone: (808) 235-7433.

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25. What is the outlook for aquaculture in Hawaii?

Hawaii's commercial aquaculture sector has expanded from 13 farms in 1976 to 100 in 2003. Continued expansion with more species cultured and substantial monies invested, is projected. Targeted sectors for greater development based on the industry's track record to date are: 1) high value seafood products for local consumption and export; 2) macroalgae or seaweeds for food or specialty chemicals; 3) microalgae for health foods or specialty chemicals; 4) year-round production of specific pathogen-free broodstock and seedstock; 5) marine and freshwater aquarium species for export; and 6) offshore and open ocean production of fish and pearl oysters. Research and educational activities are also expected to accelerate as new technological improvements are developed to sustain the rapid expansion of the industry, and as increasing numbers of trained people are needed in Hawaii and around the world.

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